Friday, August 21, 2009

Are there really people waiting to read this?

** NOTE: I realize I'm writing a blog and therefore probably guilty of exactly what I'm about to discuss here but so be it. I prefer to think of it as being complex, not contradictory. **

I admit I have a completely irrational streak about publishing. I LOVE great writing, both fiction and non-fiction, but I HATE what feels like indulgent, pretentious, entitled, annoying writing and publishing of same. I suppose that has been going on forever but over the past few years, its feels like this whole "listen to me, I've discovered myself and now I want you to discover me, too" genre has taken on a new level of aggravating. It also seems inordinately populated by women who simply must tell their stories to the rest of us.

Make no mistake: I don't loathe first person writing that's clever, surprising, different or engaging. To slice this even thinner, I don't hate memoirs as a class of writing. But I am opposed to memoirs that make the reader [me, in my case] feel like a loser. I guess the difference between an enjoyable first person memoir and a painful one is just that: how the reader feels during and after reading the book. When I read a good one, I find the storyteller interesting, oftentimes admirable, but even if they're less than likable, they're never condescending. When I read one I end up hating as I finish the last page, it usually comes down to the fact that the writer makes me feel like a failure.

Which brings us, almost inevitably, to this. Several years ago I wrote a column that questioned the appeal and popularity of a best-selling memoir titled Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Without reiterating the column here, suffice it to say I couldn't figure out the point of the book. It depressed me because I am about seven lifetimes away from being able to escape my life to spend time - in Italy, India and Indonesia - discovering myself. And getting an advance from a publisher to do it and then write about it by the way.

Whatever. Plenty of women seemed to take some joy and comfort and inspiration from Gilbert's memoir about her own personal growth and the lessons she learned about herself as she traveled around the world for one full year. That's super. God bless. Couldn't that be the end of it?

Well, no, it couldn't be. At least not if you think like a publisher. One successful book deserves/requires a sequel (another reason I love Salinger). So Gilbert's upcoming book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage will give us all a glimpse into the courtship and events that led to Gilbert's seemingly blissful second marriage to the man she feel in love with while they both were living in Bali. The story behind the story is that Gilbert wrote her follow-up to EPL, then couldn't even read through it, because she realized it was all wrong. Now what? Well, like most of us do when faced with a problem that needs a solution, she took six months off, and then decided she could write again.

I don't know about you, but lots of times when I don't know how to solve a problem, I take six months off. To think about things. Six months. Off. To think about what to do next and decide whether or not I can do it.

God help me how can any of us relate to this? Despite my tirade up until this point, I don't begrudge anyone happiness. I wish Elizabeth and her husband nothing but a lifetime of joy and fulfillment in each other's company. But at the rate we're going here, in about 24 months we'll be reading about something as unique and astonishing as Gilbert's pregnancy, followed by a delightful and heart-felt book about her whirlwind experiences as a mother, and if everything plays out beautifully, stories about her amazing grandchildren.

Please, please, please. One of my favorite aphorisms goes something like this: "Never miss the opportunity to shut up." How I wish more people followed that advice.


Starr C. said...

Ha ha ha...I really liked this post!

renee said...

Thanks Starr!

Did you read EPL and loathe it as much as I or did you just enjoy the spirit of my discontent?

I will not be reading Committed. I guess you knew that.

Thanks again for your comment.

Starr C. said...

I decided not to read EPL after watching the author's appearance on Oprah. At the end of the interview I too though, "Well, if I could sell everything and travel the world for 6 months I'd write a best seller too!"
Anyone having that amount of time off to chillax is going to have a best selling revelation!

I, too, will not be partaking in Committed. ;)

renee said...

Starr -
Thanks for the thoughts.

I didn't see the Oprah appearance; the book was highly recommended so I bought it and read it while traveling on business.

For me, I can't help but think about women like me - and maybe you - who deal with the vissistudes of life every single day and unfortunately don't get to take a year off, travel the world, and write about it. How is a book like this supposed to help us feel better?

Still, writing a book is hard work - even writing a bad book is hard work. But Gilbert is a great writer; I just wish her book hadn't come off as so "holier than thou." There's a certain amount of entitlement or priviledge here that makes me crazy.

Reading more of the same - this time with her wisdom about marriage and true love: no thanks.

Thanks for the reply.

Starr C. said...


I couldn't agree more. I'm a happily married Mom of 3 who works full time and is a part-time graduate student. At this point in my life I'm looking for good reads that make my own personal chaos seem normal or better yet how to streamline my life and still come out a happier, healthy person for myself and my family that doesn't include taking a year off to "findy thyself".

I keep up a blog: Like the title says, it's about Life, kids and feministing. Most Mommy blogs I've read are "holier than thou". It's a blog for women/parents who, like me, live in the suburbs, not a rural cabin in Vermont and who, like me, send their kids to public school rather than "unschooling". Yes, you can be crafty, a decent parent, and keep a natural home in the suburbs!

Sigh...sorry for ranting. But you're right I too forgo anyone trying to teach me the life of Zen via blog or book who has the privilege of time and the purse.

renee said...

Thanks! I'm definitely checking out your blog.

Congratulations on living the ordinary life millions of us do, and living it (mostly) happily. I wonder where some of those other moms come from, I really do.

I'm seven lifetimes away from even attempting some of the stuff they claim to do routinely. I'm the mom who not only ordered the Halloween costumes from a catalog, I paid the FedEx charges to overnight them. I sent dunkin munchkins in on bake sale day. I never knew any of the teacher's birthdays - never. Enough said? ;)